Rory boxes clever to lie just three shy of Smith at St Andrews

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy putts on the 18th green during Day Two of The 150th Open at St Andrews Old Course (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Rory McIlroy is just three shots adrift of halfway leader Cameron Smith at the 150th Open Championship in St Andrews after he kept himself in the hunt for a first major title in eight years.

McIlroy is on 10-under after rounds of 66 and 68 but he was made to battle very hard during his second round.

“Watching the coverage earlier on, the course looked easy — it was one of those, you needed to go out and make birdies. It wasn’t like you could be defensive at all. You had to go out and play well and make birdies because everyone was doing that this morning. So sort of just tried to play a little bit more on the front foot and be a little more aggressive.

“And I got off to a quiet start, but then I sort of came to life around the middle of the round. But yeah, it depends on the wind tomorrow. If the wind is similar it’s going to be the same. You’re going to see guys go out 4 or 5-under par and hang on coming in.

“You’re sort of having to keep pace with sort of getting off to a fast start. And, again, as I said, trying to make your score over those first 12 holes. And then try to play smart in the wind.”

The Holywood native has overcome his sluggish starts, making fast starts in the PGA and US Open without seriously putting himself into contention in subsequent rounds, but he was gutsy as he remained hot on the heels of the lead.

Having trailed Cameron Young by two on Thursday night, he now has another Cameron in his sights after Smith dazzled with an eight-under 64 to soar to thirteen-under-par and lead Young by two.

It was a solid if unspectacular front nine from McIlroy who had to wait until the 5th for his first birdie of the day. Another came at the 7th before he gave one back at the 8th and failed to birdie the ninth.

However, the four-time major winner burst into life with birdies a hat trick of birdies. He drove the par-4 10th and tapped in for a three after leaving an 18-foot eagle effort short. The world number two rolled in a birdie from 16-feet on 11 before he also drove the 12th green and two-putted for birdie from 56 feet.

Rory failed to birdie the par-5 14th and compounded that halt in momentum with a three-putt bogey on 15 to fall back to nine-under and four shy of Smith.

But he wasn’t finished yet and he made a superb birdie on the road hole to return to double figures and despite not finishing with a birdie on 18 he is in prime position to launch a serious assault on a second Claret Jug over the weekend.

“Yeah, just stay patient, keep hitting good golf shots. Limit the mistakes. I made two bogeys from, two three-putts from just being too far away on the green. But apart from that, you know, that’s sort of just keep plugging away, birdie the holes that you’re supposed to birdie out here.

“Minimise the danger whenever you can. I’d have to actually think about what I did at the U.S. Open. I’d have to remind myself I don’t even know at this point. But just play good golf and keep hitting good shots and hit a good shot and hit another good shot after that and just try to hit good golf shots until you run out of holes.”

McIlroy lies in a share of third alongside Viktor Hovland.

Australia’s Smith is the man to catch over the weekend and he threatened his own piece of history as at one point in the round it looked as if he would become the first golfer to shoot a 10-under par round in major championship history.

The Players champion roared out of the traps with a hat trick of birdies and passed up good chances on the fourth and fifth holes before entering the scoring loop where he charged again. Three birdies in four holes catapulted him into the lead on eleven-under before a stunning eagle on 14 extended his advantage meaning he needed two birdies in his last four holes for history.

Smith who suffered heartache at the Masters back in April carded four successive pars and he is relishing a firm and fast Old Course on Saturday afternoon.

“It should be good. I think being off late again tomorrow afternoon it’s obviously going to be a bit firmer, more like the first day, I would say. So I would say it’s going to be pretty brutal out there.

“I think there’s going to be a few more gnarly pins, and I think being smart out there is definitely going to be the key to staying at the top of the leaderboard.”

Shane Lowry had an eventful finish as he shot a four-under 68 to move onto that score after 36 holes.

The Clara native had built up a head of steam moving to four-under through 15 holes but a double bogey on 16 has all but put paid to his chances of adding a second Claret Jug to his CV although he bounced back in style with back-to-back birdies.

It could have been even better for the 2019 Open champion who failed to birdie the par-5 14th and missed a five footer for eagle on the 5th.

After the birdie on five the Offaly man lit the candle on his round in the heart of the St Andrews loop with birdies on 9, 10 and 12 as he tried to put himself on the fringes of contention heading into the weekend.

“Overall I’m pretty happy obviously, but I probably could have shot something in the mid-60s today. I holed two nice putts at the end, which is promising,” said Lowry who admittedly hasn’t held his fair share thus far.

“But other than that, I felt like I hit some good putts and didn’t hole much and put myself in position a lot of times. 16 was a real kick that one was. It was a tough lie. It was a bad shot and a bad second shot.

“To be honest, I played the hole poorly. I probably should have laid backward. From playing in the Dunhill here so much, it actually bit met here a little bit because it’s easy in the Dunhill. It’s soft. It’s slow. You don’t find yourself in those positions. I should have laid back.”

Lowry will have to come from nine adrift if he is to end a three-year winless run and he admits he needs to hole more putts if he is to go significantly lower over the weekend.

“I need to hole a few putts. At times I felt like I’m trying, I’m doing the same thing. I feel like I’m hitting good putts at time, but it’s hard to kind of stay positive out there. It’s hard to kind of keep going.

“I probably need to shoot something in the mid-60s tomorrow.”

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